First lady Jill Biden, the wife of President Joe Biden, helped the U.S. State Department honor 21 women for their “courage” and “intentional decisions” in 2020.
The women were recognized with the 2021 International Women of Courage Award. The honors were presented virtually because of the coronavirus health crisis.
Seven of those honored, all from Afghanistan, had died recently. Among them were a reporter, a woman who helped mothers in childbirth, a democracy activist, a police officer and a general who worked to fight kidnapping. Many of them were killed by people who targeted them for their work.
Fourteen other women from around the world were honored for their work in many fields. One, Maria Kalesnikava, is in prison in Belarus for her support of democracy and her opposition to President Alexander Lukashenko.
Another, Phyoe Phyoe Aung, works to make connections between young people of different ethnic and religious groups in Myanmar. She was in prison for over a year after she was arrested at a protest march in 2015.
Wang Yu of China was honored for her work as a human rights lawyer. She is not permitted to leave the country. She spent time in prison for representing activists, scholars and others on women’s rights and freedom of expression cases.
Julienne Lusenge of the Democratic Republic of Congo is an activist for women and girls. She works to stop gender-based violence. She has helped shape policy in her home country and around the world. She helped with the United Nations’ decision to recognize sexual violence as a weapon of war.
During the presentation, Biden said the women “are fighting for their own lives and for their children. They want to right the wrongs of our past...”
She said each of the women made an important decision to choose to be courageous and fight for ideas they believed in “despite the obstacles and fear they faced.”
Biden said that the U.S. is making a choice to support women around the world. She said the U.S. will “lift up the women and girls everywhere who light our way.”
Some of the other women, who Biden said fought “for something bigger than themselves,” were:
- Erika Lorena Aifan, a judge in Guatemala who deals with threats of violence while working on corruption and war crimes cases.
- Shohreh Bayat was a chess judge from Iran. She was photographed without her head covering while working at the Women’s Chess World Championship last year. The Iranian Chess Federation said she might not be able to safely return to her country without apologizing. She refused and is now living as a refugee in Britain without her husband, who has not been able to get permission to be with her.
- Muskan Khatun worked to make new laws against acid attacks on women in her home country of Nepal. She was a victim of an attack as a teenager after rejecting the romantic proposals of a boy. After meeting with Nepal’s Prime Minister and requesting a strong law against these attacks, the country made rules limiting the sale of acid. Stronger punishments for acid attacks were also put in place.
Biden said the U.S. will work harder to stay connected with powerful and courageous women around the world. “We will stand with you as we build a brighter future for us all,” she said.
I’m Dan Friedell.
Darlene Superville wrote this story for the Associated Press. Dan Friedell adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.
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Words in This Story
courage –n. the ability to do something that you know is difficult or dangerous
virtual –adj. existing or occurring on computers or on the Internet
gender –n. the state of being male or female
despite –prep. without being prevented by
obstacle –n. something that makes it difficult to do something